Thursday, October 29, 2015

Apostles for Today

Apostles for Today

Prayer and reflection

November 2015

Original Sin and the need for God’s Mercy

On 13th March 2015, marking the second anniversary of his pontificate, Pope Francis announced an extraordinary jubilee, a Holy Year of Mercy. Pope Francis says the Holy Year is “dedicated to living out in our daily lives the mercy” which God “constantly extends to all of us.” He explained that the year would begin on 8th December to commemorate both the feast of the Immaculate Conception and the 50th anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Council, which called the Church to proclaim the Gospel to the world in new ways, bringing God’s mercy to everyone.
With this issue of ‘Apostles for Today’ we are beginning a series of reflections on Mercy, Pallotti and the Pallottine Charism using Pope Francis’ Bull of Indiction, Misericordiae Vultus, as a starting point. The theme we deal with in the present issue is the fact of original sin and the need of everyone for the mercy of God.
Scripture and Tradition tell us that “God created man in his own image; in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Gn 1:27). The first human being, Adam, was created in the state of original justice, i.e., with intellect and will totally submitted to God through sanctifying grace,[1] and with his imaginative and emotional life submitted to his intellect and will. Because of this profound harmony with God’s plan of love at the level of his moral and spiritual life, his body was under the control and at the service of his soul, his relationships with others were rooted completely in love and respect, and even the external universe was subject to him. This divine ordering of his life in all of its various dimensions was, as it were, the overflow of the subjection of his mind and will to God through sanctifying grace. When this grace was lost through sin, then all of these other dimensions of life no longer remained subject to God’s love. Each faculty now spontaneously sought its own fulfilment without reference to any higher good. This condition of existence, which Adam passed on to his descendants, is not merely a state of simple lacking (negatio), but is a state of privation (privatio)[2] - the privation of original justice through which is taken away the subjection of the human mind to God as a result of no longer possessing that right relationship to God which human beings were meant to have from the beginning. This is the state of original sin.

Original sin is a condition, not something that people do; it is the normal spiritual and psychological condition of human beings, not their bad thoughts and actions. How do we verify the effect of original sin in life today? It is an undisputed fact that there is an inner quest in human beings for more. It is a God-given longing which is behind every comprehension, discovery and progress. Obtaining that which is longed for creates further desire for more and more. The desire for more in itself is not bad when it is oriented positively. However, when it is oriented towards fulfilling some desires that do not produce positive results, it can lead to a loss of freedom, addiction and slavery. Such strong desires can overwhelm those caught up in them, depriving them of self-control and the capacity to think and act rationally. Alcoholism, addiction to drugs and sex, various abuses, etc., are but a few examples of the inordinate yielding to what enslaves a person. Original sin thus becomes the tendency for human beings to ‘give in’ when tempted by the prevailing evils of the society around them, rather than standing up for good, and it helps explain why each individual finds temptation so hard to resist. As St. Paul puts it, “I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate…” (Rom 7:15).
God had created us to enjoy freedom and to make decisions that further our living in freedom. The loss of freedom which one suffers from such inordinate yielding is the effect of original sin. Original sin affects individuals by separating them from God, and bringing dissatisfaction and guilt into their lives. On a world scale, original sin explains such things as genocide, war, cruelty, exploitation and abuse, and the presence and universality of sin in human history. The stain of original sin is inherited by all humans at the moment of conception and brings its effects of ignorance, concupiscence,[3] death and suffering (Gn 3:16-19; CCC 1264). Through original sin, we have lost the hope of receiving the kingdom of God upon natural death. Original sin has separated human beings from God and has weakened our will to prefer good over evil.
In response, God, who has enduring love for all Creation (Ps 136:4-6), offers His divine mercy, comforting us in our suffering and forgiving our sins. God proclaims to Moses that He is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Ex 34:5-6; CCC 210). He “so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (Jn 3:16; cf. OOCC XIII, 121-122). Contemplating the merciful initiative of God, St. Vincent Pallotti exclaims, “O infinite love! O infinite Mercy, O abyss of ineffable miracle of mercy!” (OOCC X, 479). In a fervent prayer, he adds, “My God, my infinite mercy, by Your infinite mercy … I firmly believe that through the infinite merits of the death of Jesus Christ … my inconceivable unworthiness is destroyed … and the defects of my life are wiped out … to sing for ever as reward the wonders and depth of the Divine mercy and the infinite mercy of God” (OOCC X, 350-352).
Jesus Christ, Son of God, true God and true man, surrendered himself to an undeserved death and became the sacrifice for our sins. The passion, death and resurrection of Jesus was offered once and for all for the sins of all humankind, so that we can be saved by the grace of God. “If because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. Then as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all.” (Rm 5:17-18). St. Paul’s letter to the Romans tells us that by Adam’s sin all were convicted, and now Christ’s obedience and passion redeem all. The redemption of Jesus Christ is God’s act of mercy, a gift to the world for the expiation of original sin and personal sins. “Christ the new Adam...fully reveals man to himself and brings to light his lofty calling,” and does it “in the very revelation of the mystery of the Father and of his love.” (GS 22). “Man and man’s lofty calling are revealed in Christ through the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love” (Dives in misericorida 1).
God could have certainly found another way to redeem us. But he chose this way to show how much he loves us. However, the grace offered and the redemption accomplished by Jesus Christ at the objective level needs to be appropriated by faith at the personal level by each individual. Faith is openness to God, an attitude of confidence in him and in his saving power. It is basically a gift. God has not only given us this great gift of faith, he has also shown us his forbearance. No matter what our sins may be, he is always eager to show mercy and forgive us. However, we have to make a firm decision to repent and embrace conversion. We are free to welcome God’s mercy and make choices in keeping with this faith-life because God respects human freedom.
God created us perfect to enjoy paradise. But by allowing Adam to use his free will and freedom to sin, God gives us something even better, redemption by the blood of His only Son. Jesus Christ has redeemed us from original sin and all the personal sins committed by each ones of us, so that, as St. Paul puts it “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Rm 5:20). The paradise that God created for human beings was good, but our reward for “fighting the good fight” (1Tim 6:12) is even better. At the Easter vigil, the Church joyfully sings “O happy fault that earned so great, so glorious a Redeemer!”

1.     How do I react to the affirmation of St. Paul, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rm 3:23)?
2.    What effects of original sin do I experience in my personal life?
3.    How should I use God’s mercy as a pattern in my life (cf. Mic 6:8: what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God)?

Father in heaven, I know that I am weak; I have yielded myself to the evil inclinations that overwhelm me. I have broken your laws and my sins have separated me from you. I am sincerely sorry and I ask your forgiveness. I am in need of your mercy. May the blood of Jesus wash away my sins. I submit myself into his hands. From now on may His life be my life and may He become the Lord of my life. Pour out your Spirit into my heart that He may help me to obey you and to do your will.

                                                                                Fr. Joy Palachuvattil SAC,

Segretariato Generale, Unione dell’Apostolato Cattolico
Piazza San Vincenzo Pallotti 204, Roma, Italia

[1] Sanctifying grace is “a stable and supernatural disposition that perfects the soul itself to enable it to live with God, to act by his love”, cf. CCC (Catechism of the Catholic Church) 2000.
[2] Negatio here involves the simple fact of something being absent, whereas privatio involves the want of something that should have been there according to the Divine plan, in this case, the want of perfect union and conformity with God.
[3] An inclination towards sin and evil (cf. CCC 405, 418).

Monday, October 19, 2015

Apostles for Today

Apostles for Today
October 2015

"Let Us be Apostles of Forgiveness and Reconciliation in Order to Create a New World "

The words of an African musician poet inspired us with the idea of ​​a new world which would be the result of the practice and experience of the virtues of forgiveness and reconciliation. Having carefully observed the tumultuous reality of our time, including the various tensions worldwide, fratricidal wars, the degradation of human beings by other human beings and, adding current news, the influx of migrants to Europe; the poet exclaims: “the world is aging”.

   For the poet, in fact, the aging of the world refers to the decline of humanity, characterised by all the atrocities of which human beings are simultaneously author and victim. Hearing news regarding the reality of the present situation of the world, there is nothing to reassure us of a promising future for coming generations. In speaking of the aging of the world, the poet is addressing himself to his fellow human beings. In this way, he questions our behaviour and calls for a realisation, the pledge of a new beginning which requires a change of mentality for a renewal that the world expects of us for our own flourishing. Faced with such a bleak picture which bears witness to the aging or, even more so, the moral decay of which human beings are victim, he asks himself if we have not arrived at the state of which the philosopher Thomas Hobbes spoke, according to which human beings are, by nature, shut up in their own passions and anxious to secure their selfish interests, asserting their animosity towards each other. Hence the phrase “man is wolf to man”. In view of the overall situation of the world today as much in social as in political, in religious as in environmental terms; it is important that human beings examine themselves with a view to building a new world without which such a danger is inevitable.

     Saint John Paul II, in his post-synodal apostolic exhortation, “Reconciliatio and Paenitentia” of 2 December 1984, notes the catastrophic situation of the contemporary world, calling for conversion with a view to reconciliation. But there can be no reconciliation without a sincere commitment involving a process of forgiveness for a true healing of wounds caused by painful situations lived through and also suffered. Saint John Paul II speaks of the shattering of the contemporary world. He highlights the real divisions which “are seen in the Apostles for Today Prayer and Reflection ­ October 2015 relationships between individuals and groups, and also at the level of larger groups: nations against nations and blocs of opposing countries in a headlong quest for domination” (cf. § 2). The root cause of these divisions is to be found at the level of human beings who seem to have failed in their original mission received from the Creator according to the book of Genesis (Gen 1:29-30). Human beings, unfortunately, instead of having dominion over nature in order to make a real living space for themselves and all other creatures, destroyed it by their aggression. Hence the cry of alarm that is heard today concerning the dangers of self-destruction due to mismanagement of the environment.

   From the social and political perspectives, Saint John Paul II finds destructive imbalances that impair social harmony and thus cause conflicts with disastrous consequences for human society. In this regard, he points to the existence of “the growing disproportion between groups, social classes and countries, to ideological rivalries that are far from dead; from the opposition between economic interests to political polarization; from tribal differences to discrimination for social and religious reasons” (cf. § 2). Given this situation, it is urgent that the men and women of our time discover the need for the virtue of forgiveness required for a reconciliation that can transform human hearts. The effectiveness of this renewal process must take into account two dimensions without which one cannot speak of successful reconciliation. If we believe that forgiveness and reconciliation are two intimately related Christian virtues, then it is necessary to know in this case that only those who have already pardoned each other can be mutually reconciled.

   From the Christian viewpoint, the first dimension to be considered is the vertical relationship between human beings and God. The Christian recognizes that forgiveness is a gift of God and is the fruit of love. In fact, God has loved us first and also wants to forgive us in his Son Jesus Christ, God become man, to save us from sin and death (Jn 3: 16). Therefore, faith being the answer to the infinite love of God, it allows us to gain the strength to forgive our brothers and sisters.

   The second dimension for the revival of the harmonious world which we want involves a horizontal movement that engages human beings with each other. If the search for personal fulfilment and other ambitions have blinded us to the point of making us hostile to one another, the coming of a new world requires on our part a conversion to healthy relationships based on love of neighbour (Lk 10:29 -38).

    If a simple analysis of the verb “forgive” allows us to grasp that it involves “giving something”, we will then be in a position to consider that forgiveness leads us to reconstruct a link that no longer exists after a fracturing or rupture of relationships between brothers and sisters.

     Forgiveness therefore always places two parties before each other: the offended and the offender, the victim and the aggressor. This double dimension of forgiveness sometimes makes it difficult because it requires that both parties recognise each other in their role or condition (of offender and offended) as well as in the facts that divide or set them against each other. That is why, from the purely social and human perspective, in order to achieve true reconciliation, forgiveness demands that the offender recognise the harm or injury done to the other and express regret. In so doing, the person responsible enters into a process of reconciliation that solicits from the other a getting over of the offense which is expressed through forgiveness. Only forgiveness given and received (because desired) embodies genuine reconciliation.

    In the Ivory Coast, for example, after the electoral crisis that the country experienced in 2010, to reconcile the Ivorian people, the new government established the Dialogue, Truth and Reconciliation Commission (CDVR). It could be said that it has done its best to reach the victims in order to help them to understand what they have experienced. And in order to facilitate, even so slightly, the restoration of national cohesion in the particular circumstances, this Commission has had to initiate a dialogue between victims and their tormentors. It can be said that the results of such meetings have not always been exceptional; however, these initiatives have helped each side to express their concerns. As forgiveness is a process that requires willpower, patience and time, it can be humbly recognised without too much pretension, that the efforts made by the said Committee have had some positive impact on calming the tensions prevailing in some parts of the country.

    The effort required for effective reconciliation remains considerable and its achievement is the responsibility of every citizen. The Church, beginning with its hierarchical authorities, the pastors and the other faithful, at all levels, must become aware of the need for forgiveness and reconciliation as a basis for peace and social harmony. For this to happen, the preaching of the word of God must play a key role in the conversion of all. Without a true conversion of hearts, it is impossible to achieve reconciliation between people. And since it is God alone who can arouse in human hearts a true desire for unity and reconciliation, we ask him to inspire in us the words and actions needed for the communion of all in peace and harmony. Indeed, the word of God, the good news of the Gospel, must be at the heart of any undertaking to promote forgiveness and reconciliation between people.

   Giving part of oneself in order to restore the other in his or her dignity as a human being and child of God is the essence of forgiveness. This involves a sacrifice and, even more, a death to self for the sake of the other. Nonetheless, faith in Jesus Christ invites us to this. To the extent that we raise our eyes to Christ crucified granting pardon to his executioners that we will be able to go beyond the human dimension of forgiveness that necessarily wants the repentance of the offender. It is at this level that true forgiveness is a gift from God. God, the first to take the initiative of forgiveness, without any process of reconciliation on our part, paying a high price for this: the gift of his Son.

     That is why we maintain that it is virtually impossible for people to attain true reconciliation between themselves without recourse to the support and assistance of God from whom comes every perfect gift. If forgiveness involves agreeing to make a sacrifice, reconciliation can be said to be the consequence of this sacrifice. It is, in effect, a force born of wounded or offended hearts which have been healed of all the bitterness of the past. Speaking of reconciliation as the restoration of the strength and will to live together, Denis Saint-Pierre said that it “is more than a goodwill gesture. It is a force that triggers admirable effects”.

    Following the example of Christ, who has reconciled us with God by his death and resurrection, let us in our turn, insofar as we are Christians and apostles of Christ, be peacemakers and ask him for the grace to work for communion among our brothers and sisters. Pope Francis reminds us in this regard that “true faith in the incarnate Son of God is inseparable from selfgiving, from membership in the community, from service, from reconciliation with others” (Evangelii Gaudium, § 88). By our baptismal promises, we have been made children of God and therefore heirs of the kingdom with Christ, our Saviour; we remain conscious of our mission as apostles of forgiveness and reconciliation. Thus, we can, by our way of living and acting, contribute effectively to the advent of a new world where peace and the joy of living together reign.

 Let us pray through the intercession of St. Vincent Pallotti: “You wish us to be always animated by the humility and love and thus to become like Christ. You want us to glorify God through an apostolic life and to obtain both our own salvation and that of our neighbour” (Pallottine Prayers, Section II, Prayers directed to St. Vincent Pallotti, n. 2, p. 238).
UAC Ivory Coast
Segretariato Generale, Unione dell’Apostolato Cattolico
 Piazza San Vincenzo Pallotti 204, Roma, Italia